Open Letter to Elon Musk - Tesla 3 as SDT Vehicle

Dear Elon,

It is quite fun to see the scope and sweep of your ambition, from boring holes to colonizing Mars, but I’m going to focus on one product, the Tesla Model 3. I bought one recently, and it has turned out to be better than I thought. In this letter, I’ll explain why, and the reason is not because it is electric.

I think of myself as somewhat of a “car guy.” I’ve always enjoyed cars, currently own an Aston Martin (a manual transmission one, naturally), and race in the screwball 24 Hours of Lemons with a team of my friends. Recently I was replacing my daily driver, a Chevy Volt, which I enjoyed much more in its all-electric mode than when it was running on gas, so I surveyed the market and bought a Model 3 Performance. (Reducing my carbon load was a not-incidental consideration.)

The Model 3 as an electric car is excellent, but I expected that. Smooth controls, fantastic performance, long range, and great infrastructure support. The other reason I bought the Model 3 was for the advanced automation features, current and future, and those are great, too. 

What I didn’t expect was that the Model 3 would push the refinement/innovation curve in other areas so far up and to the right. I expected more inconsistency, more obvious tradeoffs between new thinking and sophistication. I was prepared for shortcomings that I’d have to accept as a cost of goodness in other areas, but those accommodations haven’t been necessary. I realized that there was something else at work, something true and profound that took me a while to put my finger on. The answer came out of my recent experience.

Until we sold it a few months ago, I headed up a company in enterprise networking software. The single most important trend in networks is SDN (software-defined networking). Existing companies, such as Cisco and Arista, make products that have software-defined configuration and management, but can’t make the tradeoffs required for SDN in their core products (much as Blackberry couldn’t bring themselves to abandon physical keyboards.)

That’s when it hit me: the Tesla Model 3 is an SDT vehicle. That’s what’s different. Software-Defined Transportation is a leap in thinking with profound and far-reaching implications. We’ve seen SDT disrupt ride-on-demand services, but this is the first time we’ve seen a true SDT vehicle. It is obvious why the traditional car companies are worried; it is unlikely that they can make the leap.

Yes, the future is electric. That’s clear. But more importantly, the future of transportation will be software defined. Tesla is the company that gets that. Color me impressed.


Larry Zulch